Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Royal Tour: Windsor Castle

I know I complain a lot about the challenges of moving to another country and the quirks of British culture, cuisine, and customer service.  But one thing I really like about living in London is that you can get along just fine without a car.  There are times when I get misty-eyed over our Prius, which we sold the day we left, but the thought of trying to drive here is terrifying enough to make me grateful for the ease of getting around on public transport. In fact, most of the other AWC members I've spoken to don't have a car either, even the ones living in swanky flats with air conditioning and clothes dryers.  Thanks to the Tube, buses, trains, taxis, and grocery delivery, a car is more of a luxury than a necessity, and if you absolutely have to drive somewhere, there are several car-sharing companies (Zipcar, Streetcar, City Cars) that let members rent them by the hour.

So, despite our lack of wheels (OK, Josh has a bike, but you know what I mean), we've been able to explore many different parts of London and even venture out into surrounding areas.  Saturday afternoon we took an hour-long train ride out to Windsor & Eton.  Did you know they were right next to one another?  I didn't.  But I didn't even know Wimbledon was part of London until we planned to move here.  Windsor is 30 miles west of London, just across the Thames from Eton, and is home to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
Map of Windsor (south of the Thames) & Eton (north)
Despite being a rather small town, there are two train stations about 3 blocks from one another. We arrived at one, and stopped at the shopping arcade by the other for a quick lunch before visiting the castle.
Windsor Royal Shopping
A statue of Queen Victoria welcomes visitors to the castle.
Queen Victoria
It was a beautiful day, for a change, and we clearly weren't the only people who had decided to visit Windsor.
Outside the castle
We had to stand in line for nearly half an hour just to get tickets.  While we were waiting, I snapped a photo of this aerial view of the castle grounds, which gives you a better sense of how big the complex is.
aerial view of castle
The royals were all at the Royal Wedding, so we knew there was no chance of a sighting at Windsor.  What Royal Wedding?  The Queen's eldest granddaughter, Zara Phillips, married a rugby star yesterday in Scotland.  It was a tad more low-key than her cousin's wedding back in April, but a Google search will reward you with yet another photo gallery of ridiculous hats adorning royal heads. We were able to tour the castle grounds without fear of being restricted by the movements of the royal family.

great gargoyles!

St. George's Gate
tower and gardens
We visited St. George's Chapel, where a Who's Who of royals are buried, from Henry VIII (1547) to the Queen Mother (2002).
Detail of St. George's Chapel
We were not allowed to take photographs inside, but suffice it to say it was pretty darn impressive.  They just don't make 'em like they used to...
St. George's Chapel
Sadly, when they selected the site for this massive royal residence, they failed to take into account its proximity to Heathrow airport.  Sure, it's on a hill overlooking the Thames, but the constant roar of jet engines reminded me of the years I lived under the flight path of National Airport in Rosslyn.
Da plane!
The view
Loved the gargoyles!
central courtyard
Statue of Charles II
Lonely guard
We also toured the State Apartments, visiting about 2 dozen different rooms inside the castle that are still in use today for formal dinners and other events.  One room displayed samples of royal china services while another had cases full of gifts from other countries and the walls of a third were covered with swords, pistols, and armor.  Once again, no photography was allowed indoors.  If it was, I imagine the most photographed object in the entire castle would be Queen Mary's Doll House.  Built in the 1920's for the wife of King George V, it has electricity, working plumbing, and a library of miniature books written exclusively for the house by such authors as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and J.M. Barrie.  Amazing!

We managed to finish our tour just as the castle closed at 5:15, and made our way to the High Street in search of some afternoon tea.  We ended up at a little tea house next to the Guildhall, which was designed by prolific English architect Christopher Wren (the Guildhall, not the tea house).  Legend has it that the local council insisted that Wren add more columns to his original design to support the weight of the building.  He eventually agreed, but had them built a few inches short to prove that they were not necessary.  Indeed, none of the interior columns actually touches the ceiling above.
Windsor Guildhall
We had tea and scones at the Crooked House, which looks like it inspired the nursery rhyme.
Tea at the Crooked House

The Long Walk, Windsor Great Park
Windsor Castle from Great Park
Instead, we headed back up the High Street and across a pedestrian bridge to Eton, home of the famous boys' school.
The Thames from Windsor/Eton Bridge (west)

The Thames from Windsor/Eton bridge (east)
In Eton, we passed a historic pub named the Cockpit.  Josh was excited until I explained that the name referred to the fact that they used to hold cock fights there.  It is now an Indian restaurant, but still has the old town stocks out front.
The Cock Pit (now Tiger Garden)
"Does that sign say what I think it says?"  Why yes!  Josh was tickled to learn that the Eton Porny School is an elementary school run by the Church of England.
Josh wants to attend The Porny School...
Despite the fact that we had just toured Windsor Castle, Josh declared this the highlight of his day.
...and live in Porny Cottage
By the time we reached Eton College, the campus was closed to the public, so we walked around outside and peeked through the gates.  It seemed very Hogwarts-like, with lots of old, fancy buildings, courtyards, and gardens.  It also sits right on the Thames.  Pretty sweet place to go to high school! 
Eton College Chapel
Eton College courtyard
ornate lamp post
Eton High Street
We walked back across the bridge to Windsor and, since the weather was so nice, there was no line, and we weren't ready for dinner yet, we decided to splurge for a ride on the Royal Windsor Wheel, a giant ferris wheel in a park a few blocks from the castle.  The wheel is about 200 feet high, so it's like being at the top of a 20-story building, which gave us a great view of the castle.
Royal Windsor Wheel
Windsor Castle from the Wheel

Eton (white dots in the Thames are swans)
After our ride, which lasted about 15 minutes -- we went around 4 times -- we walked along the Thames in hopes of finding a waterfront restaurant for dinner.  There were several, but some seemed too fancy, others were too casual.  The RiverHouse was just right.  We sat outside and enjoyed the view and the lovely weather as we sipped wine and dined on local steak and fish.  For dessert, Josh ordered something called the Eton Mess, which was a pile of crumbled meringue, berries, and whipped cream.  It disappeared shortly after I took this photo.
Eton Mess
We caught a 10:23 train from Windsor, and were back in Wimbledon by 11:30, just in time to Skype with our friends Lauren and Patrick (ages 5.5 and 3.5) while they were eating their dinner. Their mother, Elizabeth managed to get a few words in edgewise, but it was mainly a show & tell session where we got to see all their new toys.  They were interested to hear that we had been to a castle earlier that day, and I showed them a few photos from my camera.  The wonders of technology!  It was great fun to see all three of them.  We love being able to Skype with friends and family, so don't be shy about giving us a call.


  1. Okay, so I'm about a year behind on when this was posted...

    But, I just want to say that I actually attended the Eton Porny School, so your photos made me laugh!

    Peace out!

  2. Hello, I am also very behind the times in commenting, but I just came across this entry when looking up 'Eton Mess from the Riverhouse' to recreate at home. I am an Australian living back in Oz now, but I actually used to work as a waitress at the Riverhouse when you wrote this blog back in July 2011! Your entry has brought back some wonderful Windsor memories, thankyou :)


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